LAS VEGAS — The percentage of children living in poverty in Nevada hasn’t changed significantly over the past decade but was lower than the national average, according to the most recent estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.
Children 17 and younger living below the federal poverty level in Nevada in 1998 reached 15 percent, the census figures show — lower than the nationwide average of nearly 19 percent.
Despite Nevada’s booming population over the past decade, the ratio of poor children has remained virtually unchanged.
The highest percentage of Nevada children living in poverty was registered in 1993 at nearly 17 percent following the Persian Gulf War. The lowest in the survey period was 14.5 percent in 1995.
Overall, the 1998 estimates ranked Nevada as the 33rd-poorest state — tying with Kansas and Hawaii, with nearly 10.5 percent of its population below the poverty line.
“We’re in the middle range, kind of in with the rest of the country,” said Jeff Hardcastle, state demographer. “We’re not too high or too low.”
Although the new numbers are nearly four years old, the Census Bureau says they provide the most comprehensive look at poverty and income on the county level.
The 1998 estimates ranked two Nevada counties — Mineral and Esmeralda — as the poorest counties, respectively, in the state for percentage of those living below the poverty level.
Of Nevada’s 17 counties, Storey County was listed as having the smallest percentage of poor, at 6.1 percent of its population.
Clark County — the state’s most populous county that’s home to Las Vegas — fell in the middle, with 10.8 percent of its population falling below the poverty level in 1998.
Hardcastle attributes Clark County’s numbers to the wages paid by the casino industry for low-skill jobs such as food servers or housekeepers.
“The types of jobs we have in southern Nevada tend to have better than average the national wage level a waitress or cook makes,” he said.
Another factor is the transient nature of Las Vegas.
Historically the ratio is for every two people moving into the Las Vegas metropolitan area — the nation’s fastest growing between 1990 and 2000 — one moves out, Hardcastle said.
“That works to the benefit of the numbers, because if people don’t have a network of family and friends, they tend to go back to where they can get support or they look for job opportunities elsewhere,” he said.
In 1998, Clark County was no longer home to the highest percentage of poor youngsters as it was a decade earlier, dropping from 18.4 to 15.6 percent.
Instead, Mineral County children were the poorest making up 22.5 percent of the population, followed by Nye County children at 19.1 percent.
The estimates were compiled by combining a March population survey with food stamp recipients’ records, aggregate data from federal income tax returns and figures from the 1990 census.
The numbers will be used to determine funding for various federal programs, state experts said, adding the figures represent a general estimate, with large margins of error.
In 1998, the federal government considered an adult with annual income of about $8,000 or less to be poor. The standard for a family of four was about $12,400.
The census figures make no estimate of current poverty levels.
The number of Nevadans seeking food stamps and other public assistance has increased sharply since Sept. 11, state Human Resources Director Mike Willden said.
“We are seeing an increase in application rates and I don’t think we’ve seen the brunt of it yet,” he said.
The AP’s analysis focused solely upon middle estimates of poverty and income provided by the Census Bureau.
Because those estimates are built from survey data and statistical models, large margins of error may affect comparisons between different areas or comparisons of a single area’s numbers over time.
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